If negotiations are re-opened on a controversial proposed reserved water rights compact on the Flathead Indian Reservation, indications are the topics to be discussed would be narrowly defined.
Discussions on doing so have been held, reports Matt Volz of the Associated Press reports.
But the dispute over who controls the water and how much is allocated to farmers, ranchers and others through the Flathead Indian Irrigation Project has intensified, and it is unclear whether a deal can be reached outside of a courtroom.
The hardening positions of those involved in the conflict were apparent Tuesday during a meeting of an interim legislative panel studying a proposed water-use agreement between irrigators and the tribes that was an appendix to the larger water rights compact.
The Flathead Joint Board of Control, which negotiated the water-use agreement with the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes that accompanied the compact, disbanded after the Montana legislature rejected the compact in 2013. That created the need to revisit the agreement according to Chris Tweeten, chairman of the Montana Reserved Water Rights Compact Commission.
CSKT attorney Rhonda Swaney agreed the negotiations are needed now that the joint board of control has dissolved, but said the tribes don’t intend to reopen them fully.
“If changes are needed int he compact, they need to be agreed to by both sides,” Tweeten said. “Whatever one side might want to go forward with … can’t be dictated to the other.”